Alternative Financing Vs. Venture Capital: Which Option Is Best for Boosting Working Capital?

Several potential financing options are available to cash-strapped businesses that need a healthy dose of working capital. A bank loan or line of credit is often the first option owners think of – and for companies that qualify, this may be the best option. In today’s uncertain business, economic and regulatory environment, allowing for a bank loan can be difficult – especially for start-ups and those that have experienced financial difficulty.

Sometimes, business owners that don’t qualify for a bank loan decide that seeking venture capital or bringing on equity investors are other viable options. But are they? While there are some potential benefits to bringing venture capital and so-called “angel” investors into your business, there are also drawbacks. Unfortunately, owners sometimes don’t think about these drawbacks until the ink has dried on a contract with a venture capitalist or angel investor – and it’s too late to back out of the deal.



Different Types of Financing

One problem with bringing in equity investors to help provide a working capital boost is that working capital and equity are two different financing types. Operating capital – the money used to pay business expenses incurred during the time lag until cash from sales (or accounts receivable) is collected – is short-term, so it should be financed via a short-term financing tool. Equity, however, should generally be used to finance rapid growth, business expansion, acquisitions, or the purchase of long-term assets, defined as assets repaid over more than one 12-month business cycle.

But the biggest drawback to bringing equity investors into your business is a potential loss of control. When you sell equity (or shares) in your business to venture capitalists or angels, you are giving up a percentage of ownership in your business, and you may be doing so at an inopportune time. With this dilution of ownership most often comes a loss of control over some or all of the most important business decisions that must be made.

Sometimes, owners are enticed to sell equity because there is little (if any) out-of-pocket expense. Unlike debt financing, you don’t usually pay interest with equity financing. The equity investor gains its return via the ownership stake acquired in your business. But the long-term “cost” of selling equity is always much higher than the short-term cost of debt, in terms of both actual cash cost and soft costs like the loss of control and stewardship of your company and the potential future value of the ownership shares sold.

Alternative Financing Solutions

But what if your business needs working capital and you don’t qualify for a bank loan or line of credit? Alternative financing solutions are often appropriate for injecting operating capital into businesses. Three of the most common types of alternative financing used by such companies are:

1. Full-Service Factoring –

Businesses sell outstanding accounts receivable continuously to a commercial finance (or factoring) company at a discount. The factoring company then manages the receivable until it is paid. Factoring is a well-established and accepted method of temporary alternative finance that is especially well-suited for rapidly growing companies and those with customer concentrations.

2. Accounts Receivable (A/R) Financing –

A/R financing is ideal for companies that are not yet bankable but have a stable financial condition and a more diverse customer base. The business details all accounts receivable and pledges those assets as collateral. The proceeds of those receivables are sent to a lockbox while the finance company calculates a borrowing base to determine the amount the company can borrow. When the borrower needs money, it makes an advance request, and the finance company advances money using a percentage of the accounts receivable.

3. Asset-Based Lending (ABL) –

All of a company’s assets, including A/R, equipment, and inventory, secure this credit facility. Unlike factoring, the business continues to manage and collect its receivables and submits collateral reports on an ongoing basis to the finance company, which will review and periodically audit the accounts. In addition to providing working capital and enabling owners to maintain business control, alternative financing may provide other benefits as well:

It’s easy to determine the exact cost of financing and obtain an increase.
Depending on the facility type and the lender, professional collateral management can be included.
Real-time, online interactive reporting is often available.
It may provide the business with access to more capital.
It’s flexible – financing ebbs and flows with the business needs.
It’s important to note that there are some circumstances where equity is a viable and attractive financing solution. However, equity is not usually the appropriate financing solution to solve a working capital problem or help plug a cash-flow gap. This is especially true in business expansion and acquisition and new product launches – these are capital needs that are not generally well suited to debt financing.

A Precious Commodity

Remember that business equity is a precious commodity that should only be considered under the right circumstances and at the right time. When equity financing is sought, ideally, this should be done when the company has good growth prospects and a significant cash need for this growth. Ideally, majority ownership (and thus, absolute control) should remain with the company founder(s).

Alternative financing solutions like factoring, A/R financing, and ABL can provide the working capital boost to many cash-strapped businesses that don’t qualify for bank financing needs – without diluting ownership and possibly giving up business control at an inopportune time for the owner. If and when these companies become bankable later, it’s often an easy transition to a traditional bank line of credit. Your banker may be able to refer you to a commercial finance company that can offer the right type of alternative financing solution for your particular situation.

Understanding all the different financing options available to your business and the pros and cons is the best way to ensure you choose the best choice for your business. Using alternative financing can help your company grow without diluting your ownership. After all, it’s your business – shouldn’t you keep as much of it as possible?